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Rosh Hashanah(Day 1: Genesis 21; Day 2: Genesis 22)

The Arrival of Rosh Hashana

The story is told of a king who would go out to the towns and villages and visit the citizens one month out of the year. At that time, he was accessible to everyone, and showered all who came to him with kindness. At the close of the month, the people would accompany him as he returned to the palace.

The Baal HaTanya, the great Chassidic master, explained that this parable refers to the Almighty and the nearness of His presence during the month leading up to Rosh Hashana. It is a time when the Almighty is "near to all who call to him." With the advent of Rosh Hashana, however, the Almighty returns to His palace where we affirm the majesty of His Kingship.

On this theme, we find an interesting exception in Jewish law. Normally, on the Sabbath before each new lunar month, blessings are recited welcoming the new month. But before Rosh Hashana (i.e. the new month of Tishrei) no such blessings are said. This, the Baal Shem Tov explains, is because it is the Almighty Himself who blesses the new month of Tishrei and provides the blessings for the entire incoming year.

* * *

In the Torah portion of Vayelech, which we read last Shabbat, Moses is on the final day of his life. He gathers the entire nation together and has every man, woman, and child reaffirm their commitment to the covenant with God. It is in fact this covenant, not the one that was made at Mount Sinai and later broken with the Golden Calf, that forms the basis for the Jewish people's eternal bond with the Almighty.

But it is not with God alone, however, that the Jewish people enter into this covenant. They also enter into a covenant of responsibility for one another. It is only when all Jews are sincerely concerned about one another's welfare, that God's teachings can be properly fulfilled.

This idea is not one to be relegated to history; it remains as alive today as it was 3,000 years ago. In fact, the Baal Hatanya explains that this "gathering of all Israel together" also alludes to the Jewish people's gathering together every year on Rosh Hashana. Just as in Moses' time we affirmed our loyalty to the Almighty, so too in our day on Rosh Hashana we reaffirm the Almighty as our King. Just as then we took responsibility for one another, so too it is on the High Holidays today that we ask forgiveness from one another and heighten our concerns for one another's welfare.

On Rosh Hashana, every Jew stands equally before the Almighty, for we all have ultimately been given the same assignment: to fulfill His will.

Published: September 1, 2002

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